The story of a queer kid raised in a conservative Christian context isn't uncommon. If they come out, they do so to an archetypal scene with a likely cast of characters — parents, a pastor, concerned church ladies, etc. — who trot out the same tired dialogue. The word "abomination" gets thrown around a lot, Sodom and Gomorrah come up more than once, people weep and gnash their teeth.
If they don't come out, the messages are still pervasive, heard and internalized: Being queer is completely incompatible with being Christian, the legalization of gay marriage is a sign of the apocalypse, Christians should love the sinner/hate the sin, and loving someone of a similar gender is definitely a sin.
The clash of doctrine and self-knowledge becomes an internal civil war.
For some of us, the answer is to wash our hands of religion. "If God hates me and people like me, I want no part of this God." We leave, wounded, but safer and saner. Often, we leave angry, with a bad taste in our mouth for the idea of God and religion.
For some of us, the answer is to stay closeted. Maybe this is our "thorn in the flesh," our own personal cross to bear, so we camouflage ourselves and keep struggling.
For some of us, including myself, the answer is to remain within the church, claim both identities, live in the tension and be fully understood by neither.
Many of my queer friends don't understand why I stay in a relationship with an abusive God who doesn't love me, whereas many of my Christian friends are more than a little worried about my soul.
None of these choices are easy. They all exact a price. Identifying as both queer and Christian isn't necessarily brave, just as choosing to leave a faith community isn't the coward's way out.
It's a simple question with a complex calculus: "Does remaining in this faith community help me more than it hurts me?" No one can answer that question for you but you.
For me, living as both queer and Christian has been nothing short of holy. Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been all angel choruses and rainbows. I've read poems at Pride and had siblings in faith threaten me as they picket my existence. It's awful.
But people who know me in all my queerness and all my Christianity trust me with their questions. They trust me to point them in a direction of a God and a faith community that likes and wants them in all of their diversity. That, to me, is the definition of sacred.
This work is necessary, especially in Colorado Springs. According to an El Paso County survey, almost half of our county's religious population identifies as Evangelical Christian, a brand of Christianity 73 percent of LGBTQ people consider unsafe, according to the Pew Research Center.
The conservative, evangelical, patriotic Christian narrative rules this town. Here, the Gordon Klingenschmitts are elected. Here, acts of terror are called "God's judgment for sin." Here, protesters at City Hall are threatened with violence in the same breath they are offered prayer. Here, Focus on the Family advocates for conversion therapy and lobbies against queer protections under the law. Here, Christians claim they're under attack when they have never had more power than they do now, and use this delusion to justify acts of oppression.
There is a deep wound here, and Christians have caused it.
If I know anything, though, it is that to be queer and Christian is to be in the healing business — both of myself and of the people around me.
My work as a Christian and as a minister-in-training is to stand and say with conviction: "It does not have to be this way." It is, perhaps, to reappropriate the question so many of us wore on bracelets in youth group: What would Jesus do?
The answer is to "walk the walk" and live the way Jesus did — with compassion for the marginalized, resisting the exploitative elite. It is to take my religion back from those who have made it the tool of violence, exclusion and fear, and return it to its roots, to a belief in justice, mercy and acceptance toward all people, regardless of their religion.
It is to work for a world where the old hymn rings true: "They will know we are Christians by our love."
It isn't easy but, for Christ's sake, it's worth it.